I had to cut Annabelle’s hair again. Well, had to? I guess it is a choice I make. For her. For me? I don’t know. She twirls and pulls until it’s so ragged and uneven that it doesn’t feel like there’s much choice but to cut it all to even it out. But she hates it when I cut it. It’s always a scene involving a lot of crying. I hate it, and I admit that I’m not sure that it’s the right thing for me to do. I feel like either way, she’s screwed: leave it alone and it looks terrible because of what she does to it, or cut it in a very short pixie cut (which looks adorable, for what it’s worth – but that’s not the point, I guess) and leave her feeling angry and powerless.
Just that day – after I cut it – she told me that the dad of a neighbor girl she was playing with that day asked her why her hair is short. I’ve seen it happen myself – grownups asking her to her face why her hair is short, or asking me right in front of her why her hair is short. It seems incredibly rude and nosy to me; you would never ask another grownup why their hair is a certain way. What the fuck do they think? What do they think she’s going to tell them? Why do they care?
And yes, she’s been mistaken for a boy. I was mistaken for a boy when I was a kid on occasion when I had my Dorothy Hamill haircut, so I know how much that hurts. I know how it made me want to just curl up and disappear from the shame of it.
We’ve been dealing with Annabelle’s hair-pulling for about five years now. It hasn’t gotten any easier. We’ve tried fidget toys, band-aids on her fingers, gloves, rewards, and ignoring the behavior. Everything works for a while, and then she’s back at it.
Someone sent this article to me recently: N-acetylcysteine For Trichotillomania, Skin Picking, and Nail Biting. I’ve actually read about N-acetylcysteine (NAC) being used to treat trich a number of times over the last couple of years. Rather than redirecting or preventing the behavior, it’s supposed to somehow work on brain chemistry to control the impulse to pull. I’m generally not a fan of medicating, but I’ve decided to give this a try – mainly because I’m sort of desperate, and because, technically, this isn’t really a drug, but rather an amino acid that can be purchased at any vitamin or health food store. (No, I have not consulted with our pediatrician, as he is clueless about trich, as are most doctors, I think.)
It comes in capsule form, and since Annabelle is not yet swallowing pills, I have to open the capsule and mix the contents with juice and have her drink it (we’re starting at 500 mg/day split up into two doses, one in the morning and one in the afternoon). I thought about sneaking it on her and then decided to just be up front with her. The first thing I did was tell her, “Did you know that there are lots and lots of other people who pull their hair like you do?” She looked at me suspiciously; her hair-pulling is a point of stress and contention between us, so she doesn’t like talking about it. “Yep,” I told her. “There’s actually a name for what you do.” “There is?” she asked. “Yes, it’s called trichotillomania.” Her eyes got big – awed, I guess, by the size of the word to describe what she does. We said it slowly together a few times until she could pronounce it. Then I told her that there is a special vitamin that might help her not want to pull her hair anymore. “But I already don’t want to pull my hair, Mommy,” she said. “I know, but it’s hard not to, right? This vitamin might make it easier. Can we try it?” She said yes.
A couple of hours after the first dose, she said to me, “Mommy, I think it’s working.” Bless her heart.
We shall see. I think it’s going to be weeks – months even – before we can tell if it makes a difference, since her pulling tends to go in cycles anyway. In any event, I don’t believe this will be a cure – I’m convinced that this is something she’s going to struggle with forever. But maybe this will help.